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Hend Ali al-Hawni
هند علي الهوني
Hind Ali Al-Huni was born in 1980 in Benghazi and holds a Bachelor's Degree in media and human development. She has been working as a journalist in Libyan and Arabic media since 2006. She is the editor-in-chief of the first online magazine that reported from inside Libya during the revolution, the website of the "Libyaalhura"-Channel before it went on air. She has also worked as coordinator at the Centre for Rehabilitation and Protection of Journalistic Freedoms.

Caught in the Crossfire

Tawerghan Libya Children
Neither here nor there.
Caught in the Crossfire
Since the revolution, displaced residents of Tawergha have been living in miserable limbo.
17/9/2012 | Benghazi

In six refugee camps in Benghazi alone, thousands of displaced Tawerghans share suffering, hope and toilets. They have been traumatized since the second month of the revolution, when Gaddafi brigades made Tawergha— a northwestern town of 40,000 inhabitants— a stronghold for around 8,000 government forces and mercenaries who pounded rebel positions in neigbouring Misratah, and forced Tawerghans from their homes. 

Located on the coastal road linking Eastern and Western Libya, 50 km south of Misratah, Tawergha was one of the most armed, fierce and powerful strongholds of Gaddafi’s brigades.

The displacement of Tawerghans, says Mohammed Aksha, representative of Tawergha local council in Benghazi, began after the liberation of Misratah and neighboring cities on 11 August 2011.

These forces moved Tawergha’s elderly and sick people and those with special needs to an area called Al-Heisha, 70 km to the east, and told them to go elsewhere and prevented them from returning.

"They even chased them to Al-Jufrah and killed some of them when they gathered there," Aksha added. "When we heard the news about their bad situation we sent farm vehicles to bring them back on 29 September 2011. There were, I remember, 13 vehicles loaded with 140 people, while their normal load is 40. The journey lasted two days. Prepared to travel in such roofless vehicles, people were exposed to sand and wind and some were even barefooted."

One year and a half has passed, two governments came to power and still Tawergha is a ghost town.  Its people are still under the curse of infinite forced displacement.

Migrating to Heisha

Benghazi was not the first refuge for Tawerghans; after going to Heisha, thousands of Tawerghans left to Tarhouna and Tripoli in the west and Al-Jufrah and Sabha in the south. Figures confirm that Benghazi alone is home to around 13,000 refugees.

Within a few months, six deformed fetuses developed in the womb of Benghazi; six refugee camps with a barely human life reflecting the ruins of a city whose inhabitants were forced out in search of more secure places away from the horrendous day when they will be held accountable for their anti-revolution stance.

Garyounis Camp

In Garyounis, the largest Tawerghan refugee camp in Benghazi, which hosts 2500 refugees, a local girl, who refused to mention her name pointed at a single, two square-metre room and said, "My family lives here; all nine of us, males and females."

Approaching the "burrow" crammed with luggage, kitchenware and other belongings scattered here and there, the air smelled wet and suffocating. "We are 16 families living in one 16-room wing," she said. "We all share one toilet. My mother is sick you know, she has heart disease and our room is far away from the toilet."

Crossing the long corridor stuffed with personal belongings, an old woman on a crutch carryied a bucket of water for bathing, as she explained. The dust-covered lines of her face symbolized her wordless suffering.

A nurse in the camp's clinic, said: "This place is very crowded and the clinic has no internist or cardiologist and we don’t have first aid, though we have many patients with hypertension and diabetes."

The girl explained that the Ministry of Health did not provide any aid to the camp and that all the clinic doctors and nurses are volunteers specialized only in gynecology and pediatrics.

In the heart of tragedy

Deeper inside the camp, the harsh conditions become more apparent. The rooms are overcrowded and in some places more than one family shares one single room where; though seemingly impossible, they live, cook and sleep.

One woman in her bed struggled with the high temperature and humidity to get some air through an inhaler. She has asthma, her daughter explained, and living in the camp doesn’t help improve her condition. "We cannot afford to rent a place outside the camp. Where to get money from and if we could leave this place?" she added.

Before falling silent, the girl said, "What crime did the children commit to live in this polluted environment?  What crime did those old women commit to live in a place where they have no choice but to eat their food in disgust because of the flies and insects?"

In the middle of a shallow musty "lake", children surrounded by a barrage of flying and crawling insects were struggling to reach the water source. "I sleep and wake up with these insects hovering around all the time," said a female refugee. "Skin infections are widespread and children consistently suffer from diarrhea and vomiting."

While searching for the camp officials, a young man stopped us and said: "the tragic situation of the Tawerghans here is caused by the negligence of those in high places in the Libyan government. Our condition has deteriorated; living has become more difficult and our children are sick."

The security situation is not better, the young man told us. The camp was attacked one day before Eid Al-Fitr and the authorities failed to identify the perpetrators. "We only want the Libyan government to dedicate part of its attention to us and let the law and judicial authorities do what they can to punish the guilty ones and let the innocent return home," he said.

Salvaging what we could

An official, Saeed al-Oreibi, said that all efforts would remain "mere patching" if the government did not push hard to ease the refugees' suffering. "We are working to improve the living conditions inside the camp," al-Oreibi said. "We have built 11 new sections and succeeded in accommodating refugees in 4 of them, so far."

According to him, no government official has come to visit the Tawerghan refugees, except representatives from the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health, whose efforts resulted in opening the first school in the camp, serving 700 students from kindergarten to ninth grade.

Al-Oreibi concluded that the Displaced, Refugees and Illegal Immigration Committee, formed by Benghazi Local Council is currently trying to travel to Misratah and bring the files of 300 university students in order to enable them to complete their education in Benghazi.

"The situation is secure and stable in an organized way,” Al-Oreibi said.  “People leaving the camp are required to show refugee cards and those entering by car are subject to thorough inspection."

However, these measures, although important, cannot respond to the refugees' demands to return home and bridge the gap between their neighbors towards a conciliation that would guarantee stable life for both sides, each within its own territory without offending the other side.

Image: Nassr El-Raqa'i/Correspondents.org